Korean Peninsula: Racing to save the Trump-Kim talks
Credit Seoul for rescuing the upcoming U.S.–North Korea summit “from disaster,” said The Hankyoreh (South Korea) in an editorial. After U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly canceled the planned June 12 meeting last week—without first telling the U.S.’s East Asian allies—South Korean diplomacy sprang into action. Our President Moon Jae-in held surprise talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in the Demilitarized Zone, where he “shared Trump’s ideas for ending the hostile relationship” between Washington and Pyongyang and “realized a major achievement by drawing a commitment from Kim toward complete denuclearization.” At the end of the talks, Kim and Moon shared a warm embrace. The inside details of this inter-Korean meeting have been passed to the Trump administration, which is now fully aware that Kim is “concerned about whether he can really trust the U.S.” But with the U.S. making important concessions to the North—Trump has ruled out the “Libya model” of nuclear disarmament that ultimately led to the downfall of Muammar al-Qaddafi’s regime—the June meeting between Trump and Kim now seems back on track.
Racing toward a summit that ought to take months of careful planning is dangerous, said the Dong-a Ilbo (South Korea). With the U.S. and North Korea desperate to get fast, visible results to dazzle domestic audiences, the security of South Korea could be put at risk. If the U.S. demands the removal of nuclear warheads from North Korea, for example, Pyongyang could counter by insisting that the U.S. withdraw the 23,000 troops it has deployed in the South—a military presence that helps deter North Korean aggression. Moon’s government “should not lower its guard, and must work in an airtight coordination with the U.S.”
How can Kim and Trump negotiate when they have opposite expectations? asked the Chosun Ilbo (South Korea). The U.S. insists that total denuclearization must come before Pyongyang gets any sanctions relief. North Korea, though, is sticking to its “salami-slicing tactics of demanding concessions for each step it takes.” It has used this strategy before, extracting concessions from the U.S. and South Korea only to break its own promises—yet Moon is naïvely endorsing the approach. The demand from Seoul and Washington should be simple: North Korea must give a detailed account of its stockpile of nuclear weapons and fissile material and explain when it will all be dismantled. Already, Pyongyang has refused to allow international experts to monitor the “supposed destruction” of its nuclear test site. “Why would it do that if it is really interested in scrapping its nuclear weapons?”
It’s true that the two sides are far apart, said China Daily (China), but thanks partly to Beijing, “the momentum for peace on the peninsula has never been stronger.” Kim and Trump must “instill confidence that they will be talking in good faith” when they meet. That Seoul has agreed to discuss a nonaggression pact with Pyongyang is welcome. “Ultimately, Washington will need to demonstrate it is willing to do the same.” ■